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Jo Dale Carothers is a shareholder and chair of Weintraub Tobin’s Intellectual Property group. She is an intellectual property litigator and registered patent attorney, who advises clients on a wide range of issues related to patents, trade secrets, trademarks, and copyrights. Her practice emphasizes intellectual property litigation, licensing, prosecution, contract disputes, and issues related to proceedings before the USPTO.

Since the Alice v. CLS Bank and Mayo v. Prometheus decisions, district courts and the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has struggled to determine and navigate the boundary between what is and what is not patent-eligible subject matter. The result has been a tangle of intertwined decisions that create an extremely wide and fuzzy boundary. Attorneys are often left to throw up their hands when asked whether a new invention is patentable or whether an existing patent will likely withstand a patent eligibility challenge under 35 U.S.C. § 101. Some would argue that Federal Circuit decisions are currently dependent on which panel of judges hear the case because the present law is so ambiguous and subject to different interpretations. Therefore, the legal community, inventors, investors, corporations, and the public would greatly benefit from the U.S. Supreme Court’s guidance on this issue.
Continue Reading Will the Supreme Court Unravel the Patent-Eligibility Tangle?

Willful patent infringement can result in enhanced, and in some case treble, damages but not in every instance. Because the standard for finding willful infringement has traditionally been lower than that for enhancing damages, a finding of willful infringement does not guarantee an award of enhanced damages.  However, a 2019 Federal Circuit opinion caused confusion, suggesting the standards were essentially the same.  SRI Int’l, Inc.  v. Cisco Sys., Inc. (“SRI II”) 930 F.3d 1295 (Fed. Cir. 2019).  In SRI Int’l, Inc.  v. Cisco Sys., Inc. (“SRI III”) (Fed. Cir. 2021), the Federal Circuit acknowledged the confusion and clarified these standards.
Continue Reading Federal Circuit Clarifies Standards for Willful Patent Infringement and Enhanced Damages

In ruling on motions to dismiss and motions for summary judgment, courts have found a number of patents ineligible under 35 U.S.C. § 101 as a matter of law.  However, in Berkheimer v. HP, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit indicated that in certain instances, the determination of patent eligibility under § 101 involves questions of fact and thus are questions for juries.
Continue Reading Juries Will Play Role in Some Questions of Patent Eligibility

In recent years, the Supreme Court has decided a number of cases, including Bilski v. Kappos, Mayo Collaborative Servs. v. Prometheus Labs., Ass’n for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad, and Alice Corp. v. CLS Bank Int’l, which involve the limits on patent eligibility under 35 U.S.C. § 101.   For example, in Alice, the court stated “[t]he ‘abstract ideas’ category embodies the longstanding rule that an idea of itself is not patentable.” The Supreme Court further recognized that “laws of nature, natural phenomena, and abstract ideas” are not patent-eligible subject matter under 35 U.S.C. §101.

To determine whether claims are patent-eligible the Supreme Court set forth a two-part test in Mayo as further explained in Alice. This test consists of the following steps:


Continue Reading USPTO Requests Input on Patent Eligibility from Critical Sectors Impacted by Current Law

Hard seltzer first hit the marketplace about five years ago and rapidly grew in popularity with sales exceeding $4.5 billion in 2020.  Wanting to ride the wave of success, many companies have introduced hard seltzers into this now crowded space.  But what is a hard seltzer?  Is it a form of beer or something else?  Based on its popularity, most would say, “Who cares whether hard seltzer is beer, just give me one.”  However, Modelo Grupo (“Modelo”) and Constellation Brands (“Constellation”) would say there is a lot riding on the answer.

Modelo, whose parent is Anheuser-Busch InBev (“AB”), created the Corona brand.  In 2013, Constellation acquired perpetual, irrevocable, and exclusive license rights in the Corona marks, which gave Constellation the right to sell products under the Corona trademark.  Then in 2020, Constellation introduced Corona Hard Seltzer, which is a sugar-based, fermented beverage produced in Coahuila, Mexico.  Corona Hard Seltzer is now the fourth most popular hard seltzer in the United States, competing directly with Bud Light Seltzer and other AB hard seltzers.

Modelo sued Constellation in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York over the use of the Corona trademark for Corona Hard Seltzer and for breach of contract, alleging that Constellation only has the right to sell beer products, not hard seltzer, under the Corona brand.   According to Modelo, hard seltzer is not one of the allowable beer beverages.
Continue Reading Beer: You Know It When You Taste It, Or Maybe Not